Washington, DC, March 23, 2001 – In comments before the House Republican Conference today, Competitive Enterprise Institute Adjunct Scholar Dana Joel Gattuso discussed the importance of the federal government delegating responsibility for the cleanup of blighted urban industrial areas known as brownfields.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Gattuso told the conference the task should be left to state and local officials. The innovative, decentralized approach taken by many states has resulted in tens of thousands of areas being cleaned up and returned to active use–a track record that contrasts strongly with the poor performance of the federal Superfund program.
Brownfields are generally defined as former industrial sites that lie abandoned because of real or perceived contamination. Typically, businesses have been afraid to cleanup and develop these sites for fear of being held liable for contamination that has been left on the site by a previous owner. Under federal Superfund rules, parties even remotely associated with a contaminated waste site can become liable for millions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines regardless of whether they had anything to do with, or even knew about the waste when it was deposited.
“The Environmental Protection Agency should get out of the business of brownfield cleanup,” said Gattuso, who authored a comprehensive study on brownfield reform last year. “In total, 46 states have some sort of voluntary cleanup program, and the successes of those states have set an example for EPA on how to improve environmental quality and foster economic development at the same time.”
Gattuso emphasized that Congress should de-link brownfields that are cleaned up by state programs from Superfund’s prohibitive laws. Specifically, the most effective federal reform legislation would not hold innocent parties liable under Superfund. It would also ensure finality—that is, once a site has been cleaned up under the state program and determined by the state to have met the state’s cleanup standards, the federal government will not override the state and “reopen” the site. Without providing developers and lenders with these essential assurances, the risks to involved parties are simply too high to warrant their interest in cleaning up brownfields.
Click here for Dana Joel Gattuso’s Revitalizing Urban America: Cleaning Up the Brownfields.
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